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News > Latin America

Panama: Indigenous Groups Slam Gov't Restart of Dam Project

  • Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous community leader Clementina Perez

    Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous community leader Clementina Perez | Photo: EFE

Published 17 July 2015

The environmental authority of the country had suspended the project five months ago over social and environmental concerns.

Panama’s Indigenous Commission, a coalition of the country’s indigenous groups, refused at the last minute on Friday to start a new round of negotiations with the government over the controversila Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam.

The movement 22 de Septiembre, part of the commission, explained it will not participate in the negotiations, claiming the government had no intention to cancel the project like the indigenous groups demanded, but only extend the situation.

The indigenous groups from Ngäbe-Buglé on Thursday condemned the increasing number of police units guarding the entrances of the site, as well as their growing precense in the neighboring Tole, Chiriqui, where the negotatiations were scheduled to take place.

In February this year,  Panama’s National Environmental Authority (ANAM) temporarily suspended the construction of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam over environmental and social concerns. On Wednesday, the government restarted the project, a minister announced to the local media, allowing the national company Generadora del Istmo (Genisa) to continue the operations while reopening negotiations with the indigenous groups who fear to lose their lands and the contamination of the river Tabasara.

RELATEDPanama: Resistance Grows as Contested Dam Project Moves Forward

The decision created a confrontation between the police units and the inidgenous protesters, as the indigenous groups were compelled to move their camp they had constructed at the entrance of Tole, where they blocked the street for 10 minutes until the police evacuated them.

“We condemn the behavior of the government of Juan Carlos Varela … which has militarized, whether in purpose or not, the region, violating the rights of indigenous peoples,” said leader of Movimiento 10 de abril Manolo Miranda.

Director of National Police Amar Pinzon replied that the officers' presence aimed to have freedoms and rights respected, the government to finish the project, and of the indigenous groups to protest.

Work on the project's infrastructure was 90 percent complete in May, according to Hydroworld, and is financed by European Banks from Germany and the Netherlands, as well as the Central American Bank of Integration. It had been approved by approved by the U.N. Clean Development Mechanism. 

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